Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The Pac-12 is top heavy at quarterback in 2014, featuring Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly. But there’s room for some of the names to move around in the middle of the quarterback rankings, including Colorado’s Sefo Liufau or California’s Jared Goff.
On the defensive side, keep an eye on players like Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, USC’s Delvon Simmons and Arizona State’s Salamo Fiso.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
Pac-12 Breakout Players for 2014
Devon Allen, WR, Oregon
With a knee injury expected to sideline Bralon Addison for the 2014 season, the Ducks need new targets to emerge for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Addison isn’t the only loss at receiver in Eugene, as Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins (85 receptions in 2013) have expired their eligibility. Allen closed out a breakout spring with two catches for 94 yards and two scores in the spring game. And the gridiron isn’t the only place Allen is making news this offseason. He won the U.S. track title in 110 hurdles in late June and won USA Track & Field athlete of the week honors in early July. Allen has the speed and athleticism to become one of the Ducks’ top playmakers in 2014.
Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks earned the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s No. 1 receiver last season, so Bolden and the other Oregon State receivers have big shoes to fill in 2014. Despite the loss of Cooks, the Beavers still have options in the passing game. Junior Richard Mullaney caught 52 passes last season, and tight end Connor Hamlett is back after grabbing 40 catches in 2013. Bolden caught only six passes for 62 yards, but he averaged 20.6 yards per kickoff return. The sophomore is projected for a bigger role in the passing game in 2014, and his explosiveness will help quarterback Sean Mannion stretch the field this year.
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
Booker has traveled an interesting route to Utah, as he signed with Washington State out of high school but failed to qualify. After a stint at American River College, Booker is finally in Salt Lake City. The Sacramento native capped a breakout offseason with 103 yards and two scores on 19 attempts in the spring game. Utah averaged only 3.7 yards per carry in Pac-12 contests last year. Booker should help that total in 2014 and will push Bubba Poole for the starting job this fall.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
New coordinator Don Pellum’s first assignment this offseason was to solidify the defensive line after the departures of Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi. The Ducks still need to bolster the depth in the trenches, but Pellum’s starting trio could be among the best in the Pac-12. Buckner played in all 13 contests in 2013 and recorded 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks. After starting the final eight games last season, Buckner is still developing as a player but continued to progress with a sack and a forced fumble in the spring game. We mentioned Buckner as a breakout player here, but junior Arik Armstead is another name to remember. Entering his junior year, Buckner is poised to emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top defensive ends.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens was one of the top defensive players in the 2013 recruiting class and ranked as a five-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite. And as a true freshman, Cravens certainly didn’t disappoint last year. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors after recording 52 tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble. Cravens should benefit from the addition of coordinator Justin Wilcox, as well as another year to participate in offseason practices. Expect Cravens to push for All-America honors this year.
Salamo Fiso, LB, Arizona State
Fiso was a standout freshman performer for Arizona State last season, recording 71 stops and three sacks in 14 games. Fiso only got better throughout the 2013 campaign and is one of just two returning starters for the Sun Devils in 2014. Fiso will anchor a linebacking corps that is talented, but inexperienced. The sophomore should be in the mix for all-conference honors and could lead the team in tackles after finishing third on the stat sheet last year. Another Arizona State linebacker to keep in mind for this list: D.J. Calhoun.
Joshua Garnett/Kyle Murphy, OL, Stanford
Four starters depart from a Stanford offensive line that was one of the best in the nation last year. However, there’s not much concern from coach David Shaw about the protection for quarterback Kevin Hogan. Left tackle Andrus Peat is an Athlon Sports All-American for 2014, and the line has breakout players like Garnett and Murphy ready to emerge. Murphy played in 13 contests last year, while Garnett made an appearance in 14 and started against Washington State. Both Garnett and Murphy should push for All-Pac-12 honors this year.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Some may not consider Goff a breakout player after he threw for 3,488 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. However, with California expected to improve overall in the second year under coach Sonny Dykes, along with the return of a talented receiving corps, Goff could approach 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014. As expected with any freshman quarterback, Goff had his share of ups and downs last season. He threw for 336 yards and one touchdown against Washington and completed 32 of 58 passes for 489 yards against Washington State. Goff finished the year by throwing for less than 200 yards in back-to-back games against Colorado and Stanford. With another offseason under his belt, look for Goff to take a step forward in his development and show a better overall command of the offense.
Tahaan Goodman, S, UCLA
We could pick a number of UCLA defenders here, but let’s go with Goodman as the breakout player from Jim Mora’s defense. Goodman ranked as the No. 65 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and played in 13 games as a true freshman. The California native recorded only 12 tackles and one forced fumble last season, but he is primed for a bigger role in UCLA’s secondary. With Fabian Moreau returning at cornerback, along with talented players like senior Anthony Jefferson, junior Randall Goforth and sophomore Priest Willis, the Bruins’ secondary should be one of the best in the Pac-12 this season.